Fleabag & its Demonstration of Imperfect Feminism is Female-Centered Television at its Finest

I was 8 years old when I first realized that being a woman meant I would have to struggle to prove my existence in even the most minimal ways and that it was our job as women to empower each other to break the glass ceiling.

I learned soon after that glass ceilings are everywhere.

There comes the realization that you need to fight for your rights, and then there’s the fear, but soon afterwards the feeling of eagerness and the need to take initiative that comes with it.

In a world where we excessively stress the importance of being politically correct, I’ve struggled with trying to be the “perfect feminist,” which in my head, meant constantly standing up for what’s right, not letting the fear (or the patriarchy) get to you, and on a personal level, get past your insecurities by fully accepting them.

I look back now and understand that it was naïve of me to think that feminism is that simple, or even any of these things at all.

From then until now, I’ve read countless of personal essays, academic essays, articles, etc. about types of feminism, in an attempt to figure out what kind of a feminist I am.

From the time I’ve understood the idea of feminism, I’ve rushed to establish a set of values, ideals, and morals, that could let help me determine what that term meant to me, particularly how I chose to associate it. 

Now, I can proudly say, I am a feminist, in some moments, a bad one, something I am very much okay with.

This is all thanks to actress, playwright, and screenwriter, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her show Fleabag (which was approved by former President Barack Obama this past year).

Waller-Bridge herself discusses how the show has brought about her insecurities as a “bad feminist” but ironically enough, it has made me relish in the fact that a part of being a woman is taking an exceedingly long time to navigate a society built for men and that as a feminist, it’s okay to sometimes not know what the right thing to say is.

Fleabag has taught me that feminism and a part of this “good fight” is celebrating the pain women endure while simultaneously learning to overcome it, and there is no pressure in completing this journey any time soon. 

From the moment the show begins, something feels different.

Waller-Bridge (who plays main character Fleabag) breaks the fourth wall, which means from time to time she’ll break out of her own world and into ours to sneak petty looks and witty remarks, letting us in to her dirtiest, most embarrassing thoughts, some of which she cannot help but express to those who are in her own life.

These excruciatingly uncomfortable moments she shares with the audience allowed me to recognize and become comfortable with parts of myself that I was ashamed of.

Breaking the fourth wall involves Fleabag giving us insight on people in her personal life, insight which illustrates to us that she is a strongly opinionated woman (and aren’t we all).

My favorite bits are when she clearly expresses her thought process to the audience whenever she is trying to hold back any inappropriate exclamations, only to fail most of the time.

She manages to include the audience when she spurts sarcastic and amusing comments about being hypersexualized, struggling to not give in to the pressures of a largely patriarchal society, her own sex manic thoughts, and other subjects that women may feel self-conscious about to discuss orally.

Everything that most women and feminists feel embarrassed about, Fleabag feels and experiences unapologetically and blatantly, including femme guilt and pain. 

I’ve always felt this strange pressure to be completely secure with myself. And a part of security is acceding to your flaws.

But its normal and human to not be able to acknowledge your flaws (most of which are self-inflicted perhaps), to completely hate parts of yourself you feel like are impossible to change and even more impossible to accept.

Waller-Bridge writes all her female characters, not just Fleabag, to be wildly insecure and to have countless personal issues.

The way they stumble through these issues, sometimes self-absorbed, sometimes selfish, but always in a way that makes them human is strangely empowering.

These insecurities aren’t written into the script as a way to add quirks to their personalities, and the characters aren’t even close to resolving them or arriving at self-love by the time the show ends, but Waller-Bridge sees it, that is perfectly okay.

The way Waller-Bridge has written these female characters, the struggles surrounding these insecurities and the imperfections that surround them are meant to be normalized without glamorizing their struggles.

She lets it be known that the journey to resolving their trauma, whether it be physical or emotional is a long one. one that may never be fixed, but Waller-Bridge makes the journey seem like one worth taking that no woman should be ashamed of. 

Fleabag explores the trials and tribulations of one woman, and unlike some of the female-centered shows I’ve seen over the past couple of years (most of which were produced by men), her flaws aren’t carefully calculated in the script that Waller-Bridge has written.

Women don’t always have to claim their power in some sort of exorbitant manner.

We, like Fleabag, can be confused and muddled as we navigate the world without owing anyone anything and we can be vulnerable at times or do or say the wrong thing all the time.

The intricacies that entail the individual woman’s experience are much more complex than the “requirements” that fall under some people’s definition of feminism.

I am a feminist because I am dedicated towards ending the struggles and real human issues encompassed within the experience of womanhood.

As Fleabag demonstrates, feminism does not have to mean committing to intensely disproving and/or fighting against the communal and common fallacies of what women can and should be and it doesn’t have the jurisdiction to enact a rulebook to living a life in which it is the only way that women can claim their power.

The female characters in Fleabag have taught me that women are too complex and multifaceted to be perfect feminists and for that I am very thankful.